Education Blog

Planting the Seed and Growing Future Readers

2 volunteers reading to small children

Kellie R. Blanden

For the past 12 years, The Champaign-Urbana Kiwanis Club and Illinois Public Media (home of WILL-TV) have collaborated to offer Book Mentor Jr., a volunteer reading program for children enrolled in Champaign Early Head Start classrooms.  The Book Mentor Jr. program operates on the belief that it is never too early to learn to read. Our program serves children from birth through age three. There is much good news for children who are read to.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), family members who read to children three or four times a week are more likely to recognize all letters of the alphabet, count to 20 or higher, and write their own names at higher percentages than children who come from homes where they are read to less frequently.

Our partnership works like this: The Kiwanis Club supplies the volunteer readers and the funding to purchase one book a month for eight months for each of the children. Book Mentor Jr. volunteers read a book to the class and then the classroom teacher engages the children in an activity that supports a concept in the book. The children get to take these new books home each month. We encourage families to read to the children in their homes and we help build participating families’ home libraries. 

Each month, WILL creates home activities for the families so they can read the book and do an activity together. For example, the book for the month of January was The Snowman Shuffle by Christianne Jones. With this fun, interactive board book, children heard rhyming words and fun instruction to get them moving and dancing.  Books like this help children connect movement and sounds (the words) into a fun experience. After the volunteers finished reading the book, the classroom teachers led an activity where the children created their own snowmen!  As you can see, the children have experienced language development, word sound, movement, and art- all into one lesson surrounding this book!  Then WILL provides PBS Learning Media home extension activities to help the families further engage with the book at home. For this book, we shared a link to a Daniel Tiger video where Daniel imagines that a snow family lives in the neighborhood and it's lots of fun to play with them. All of these activities and resources work together to provide a well-rounded literacy experience for these small children.

Both Illinois Public Media and the Champaign-Urbana Kiwanis Club are deeply invested in planting these program seeds so we can continue to grow our future readers!